article by joseph platania
photography by david e. fattaleh
From veterans of war to prominent local families, scenic Spring Hill
Cemetery is rich in history and heritage.
As you drive up the hill from 20th Street on Norway Avenue, Spring Hill
Cemetery comes into view, encompassing all of the landscape for half
a mile along the right side of the road. Its dark red brick boundary wall is as familiar as any landmark in
Huntington. For more than 125 years, the 110-acre cemetery has been the
final resting place for thousands of residents of Huntington and the
surrounding area. Spring Hill Cemetery is a historically significant
state and local landmark. The cemetery also has a rich heritage that
dates back to the earliest years of Huntington’s
existence as a city.
With many large, old trees and peaceful, well-maintained grounds,
Spring Hill is a beautiful place for a walk in any season. It is also
a place to contemplate Huntington’s history with the
names of many of the city’s founders and developers such as
Buffington, Oley, Enslow, Emmons,
Cammack, Campbell, Long, Ritter,
Northcott, Switzer, Wallace, Holderby, Vinson, and Barnett
etched upon prominent headstones, monuments and mausoleums.
is the largest Civil War cemetery in Cabell County with more than 300 Civil War soldiers, both Union and
Confederate, at rest here. Billie Sue Graybeal, of Huntington, states
that two of the seven Civil War generals buried in West Virginia are
in Spring Hill. They are Confederate Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins and
Union Gen. John Hunt Oley.
Veterans of the Spanish-American
War (1898), both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm also are
buried in sections for
military personnel with the designations “Soldier’s Rest,” “Soldier’s Field” and “Veterans’ Plot.”
Spring Hill Cemetery was established by the new city of Huntington in
September 1874, it was
outside the city limits.
Historical accounts state that Spring Hill was
first used as a cemetery during the early 1870s, but the oldest grave
on the grounds is from 1838.
Eldora McCoy, office manager at Spring Hill’s sales office, says
that she believes from its location in the cemetery the 1838 marker is
an original gravesite.
McCoy explains that the oldest grave is that of
Elizabeth Prosser. She noted that in 1994, cemetery workers did a “talc-rubbing” of
the concrete marker at the grave while the inscription was still visible.
It reads: “Elizabeth Prosser, wife of John” and the date
of her death is shown as “August 5, 1838, age 71 years and 5 months.” McCoy
said that prior to the establishment of the cemetery, most of the land
was open countryside. She adds that the first official burial at Spring Hill was that
of Josephine Webb in 1873.
Both Spring Hill and Highland
Cemetery, which is located on
Saltwell Road in the city’s southeast section, are owned and operated by the Greater Huntington Park and
There are Civil War soldiers buried in Spring Hill
Cemetery in either the GAR (Union) or the UCV (Confederate)
plots, which are on a side road near the sales office. There also are
Civil War veterans who are buried in the cemetery in addition to those
interred in these two plots. One such veteran is E. A.
Bennett, who was an early mayor of Huntington and a Union soldier.
According to John Lavery, a local Civil War historian who is now
deceased, many of Huntington’s early city councils were almost evenly divided between Union and
Civil War soldiers who are not
buried in either the Union or
Confederate plots often are identified by a special marker at their grave.
on research, 12 of the 25 Confederate soldiers in the UCV plot were either
killed in action or died of their wounds during the Civil
War. This number includes Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins, who died of his
wounds on May 21, 1864 and is buried near the UCV plot. According to
research, two Confederate soldiers buried in Spring Hill were killed
in action on November 9, 1861. This date coincides with the Battle of
Guyandotte, which took place on November 10, 1861.
At the time it was
established, Spring Hill was the only integrated cemetery in the Huntington
area with a section where many African-Americans are
buried. Members of Huntington’s prominent African-American
families, such as the Barnetts, and Revella Hughes, who was a Broadway
singer and later a music teacher at the former Douglass High School in
Huntington, are buried in Spring Hill.
Huntington’s first cab driver
Dan Hill, who in the 1890s used a horse-drawn, four-wheel wagon to transport
people around town, is buried
in this section as is R.E.L. Washington, Huntington’s first black
Dr. Clinton C. Barnett, son of Rev. Nelson Barnett who founded the First
Baptist Church in Huntington, is buried in this section as well. Dr.
Barnett established the former Barnett Hospital and, later, was
superintendent of the State Hospital for Colored Women at Lakin, West
According to cemetery records, Robert T. Oney, the brave cashier at
the Bank of Huntington who was robbed at gunpoint by Frank James and
Younger in the famous robbery of September 5, 1875, is buried in Spring
Hill. Oney died 1888.
The price of a single grave space in 1874 was $1.60.
In September 1954 the price was $60. Today the price ranges from $695
Spring Hill increased its acreage during the early years of
the 20th century and just after World War I. The cemetery also increased
in the 1920s and 30s and as recently as the early 1970s.
Headlines of a story in The Herald-Dispatch on March 11, 1917 state: “Cemetery
population larger than Huntington’s in 1900.” The article
reports that “more people in the City of the Dead, Spring Hill,
than lived in the corporate limits of Huntington 17 years ago (1900).”
newspaper story in 1918 states that there were more persons buried in
Spring Hill that year than in other similar periods. Death records
for this time show that there were more than 1,000 interment on the hillside back of the city. This death count
probably was attributed to an outbreak of the
worldwide Spanish flu epidemic which hit Huntington
A May 1939 article reports that the construction of the “brick
boundary wall along Norway Avenue and elsewhere around the cemetery” began
the preceding year. It adds that “management of both cemeteries
(Spring Hill and Highland) has been under the
control of the park commission since 1925.”
McCoy says that there
are approximately 80,000 persons buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, and
there are between 12,000 and 15,000 buried in Highland,
a 15-acre cemetery that was established by the city of
Huntington in 1892.
McCoy explains that there are at least 15
undeveloped acres at Spring Hill and since 800 persons can be buried
in an acre, the cemetery will be in business far into the future.
Hill originally was 30 acres in size and now it is more than 110 acres.
McCoy stated that, “In 1874, the City of
Huntington purchased Spring Hill Cemetery from the Central Land Co. owned
by Collis P. Huntington. The name is thought to have come from an old
spring house that once stood close to where the first bodies were interred.”
the cemetery’s early years, bodies sometimes were disinterred
from private or family graveyards in Huntington and reburied in Spring
In the 1935 book Cabell County Annals and Families, local historian George S. Wallace writes, “an old
Huntington graveyard on Staunton Road was divided into town lots, the
graves were disinterred and moved to Spring Hill.” He notes that
a number of old grave markers were destroyed including names such
as Buffington, Scale, Russell and other pioneers.
The Greater Huntington
Park and Recreation District (GHPRD) also owns two historic cemeteries
in Huntington. One is located on Fifth Avenue
in Guyandotte, near the historic Methodist church. In this old Methodist
cemetery veterans of the American Revolutionary War are buried as well
as others who died during the 18th century and early 19th century.
other historic cemetery is called “Pat’s Branch” and
it is located on the former INCO (now Special Metals) property and dates
back to 1836. The GHPRD maintains both graveyards and keeps them accessible,
but they are closed cemeteries and no burials take place there.
chapel which houses Spring Hill’s sales office originally
was built as a place to hold services prior to burials.
last sexton was Arden Ross, who retired in 1998. Ross lived in a large
yellow house on cemetery property and was employed
at Spring Hill for 25 years. He would stay at the cemetery during the
week and went home to be with his family in Wayne County on weekends.
Ross was the last in a long line of sextons who lived on cemetery property
extending back to the beginning of Spring Hill. He was succeeded by the
present Superintendent of the Cemetery who does not live on the property.
compares visiting Spring Hill with its many varied tombstones, monuments
and mausoleums to “reading Huntington street sign names and local
school names that reflect the city’s history.”
there is the grave of Union Gen. John H. Oley, who established Huntington’s
school system and is considered the father of public education in the
city. The cemetery is home to the graves of Rufus Switzer,
a Huntington mayor during the early 1900s who is considered the founder
of Ritter Park and the city’s park system, and local historian
and author George S. Wallace. There are about a dozen tall obelisks
in the cemetery bearing such prominent names as Harvey, Enslow, Northcott
Eldora explains that Spring Hill Cemetery originally was located
on two hills near the present sales office and included Potter’s
Field, Civil War veterans’ plots and an area known as The Point.
states that Potter’s Field now is located in Highland Cemetery
and it is for the burial of indigent persons. She adds that an average
of 15 persons per year are buried there and these interments are
arranged by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
historically Catholic section, which sits on consecrated ground where
members of Huntington’s prominent Catholic families are buried,
dates back to the period 1910-1920.
The Pallottine Sisters who founded, and for many years operated St. Mary’s
Hospital, are buried in an area adjoining this section. The names of
the 16 sisters who were the first to come to Huntington in 1924 are inscribed
on a monument across from the parking area on the road. According to
a map of this part of the cemetery, as of 2001, there were 79 Pallottine
Sisters buried in graves on a long, grassy slope in a tract with flat
markers. The earliest grave is that of Sister Mathia, who died on October
There also are four sections located in different parts of Spring Hill where Jewish residents of
Huntington are buried including the area called B’nai Israel, which
is considered the oldest of these sections. The Frankel Mausoleum has
an inscription in Hebrew etched on the front, and nearby are the Hyman
and Cohen mausoleums. Many headstones in sections of the cemetery where
Jewish residents are buried have the Star of David inscribed on them.
are between 20 and 25 mausoleums at Spring Hill while there are none
at Highland. The oldest mausoleum dates back to the late 1800s.
says that in recent years, and because of the expense, a family will
purchase a crypt rather than have a mausoleum built.
In the center part of an older section of the
cemetery is the Vinson family plot where Eloise
Hughes Smith, of Huntington, who was a survivor of the Titanic disaster
of April 15, 1912, is buried. Eloise, who died in 1941, is buried beside
her father, Congressman James Hughes, and her mother, Belle Vinson Hughes.
states that the Marshall Memorial in Spring Hill, for the 75 victims
of the November 14, 1970 Marshall plane crash at Tri-State Airport, was
completed sometime in 1972. It is a dignified and handsome memorial that stands on high ground in the
southwestern part of the cemetery.
An article in a July 1971 issue of
The Herald-Dispatch describes the memorial as “a solid granite
cenotaph, nine feet high surrounded by shrubbery, trees, and two diverging
granite flagstone walkways over
a concrete base.”
The article adds that Spring Hill Cemetery is
the burial site of several victims of the crash.
The names of the six
football players whose bodies could not be identified are inscribed on
the front of the memorial with the inscription, “They
shall live on in the hearts of their fans and friends forever, and this
memorial records their loss to the university and to the community.”
below their names are six unmarked graves. The other 69 victims’ names
are inscribed on the remaining sides of the memorial, and the back reads: “In
lasting remembrance of the members of the Marshall University football team, coaches, and
devoted fans who died in the plane crash on
November 14, 1970.”
The memorial, which is located in a newer section
of Spring Hill Cemetery, overlooks the city. From this site a part of
the Marshall campus and
the new Marshall Stadium can be seen in the distance. Near the memorial
are the graves of some of the other victims of the crash.
25, 1999, there was a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Spring
Hill Cemetery. Some of the events that took place included
historic tours, Civil War group and grave rubbings. There also were genealogy
society meetings and a picnic.
A cemetery brochure sums
up the vision of the citizens who founded this now historic site: “When our
forefathers contemplated a beautiful hallowed ground for burial of their
they chose very well in the location of Spring Hill Cemetery. With
the design and layout of the cemetery, they looked well into the future.
At the rate of burials today Spring Hill will be burying well into the
The brochure adds: “Our grounds are also rich
friends from the smallest chipmunks to the pair of mighty hawks that
frequent us daily. Whether you are here for our area’s rich heritage
or just for peaceful solitude, we encourage walkers and nature lovers
Bill Waugh, director of sales for Spring Hill, said, “What
sets apart Spring Hill from other cemeteries is its grave sites for Union
and Confederate soldiers, and unlike most cemeteries in the Tri-State,
it is locally owned and operated.”
Spring Hill describes itself as “the area’s most
prestigious cemetery that abounds in heritage that spans history of our
region from the earliest settlers through the Civil War era to the present.”
Any research concerning Huntington or West
Virginia history would not be complete without a visit to Spring Hill
a final resting place located in the heart of the community.